Opinion
Standards Opinion

Without the Common Core in Oklahoma

By Valeria Hughes — July 08, 2014 4 min read

Early last month, in a strange twist of events in my state of Oklahoma, politicians instead of educators decided the fate of the Common Core State Standards. Educators and policymakers around the country waited with bated breath to see if Gov. Mary Fallin would sign House Bill 3399, immediately removing the common core from classrooms across the state. And sign she did. But it did not go down quietly: On June 25, parents, teachers, and members of the Oklahoma state school board filed a legal challenge in the state supreme court, arguing against the constitutionality of the standards’ repeal. This legal petition also put the governor’s decision to revert to the state’s 2003 standards—Priority Academic Student Skills, or PASS—on hold.

As far as I can tell, Oklahoma educators could possibly have no standards by which to teach when we return to school next month.

As an elementary school teacher, my concern is about getting the best standards in front of my students. And for this reason, I am dismayed by the loss of the common-core writing standards. Writing instruction has long been neglected in state-written academic standards, and the common core moves writing back to its rightful place in a thinking-based curriculum that is stair-stepped from kindergarten through the 12th grade. The writing standards require the development of listening and speaking skills, in addition to close reading of informational texts with annotation and concise, written summaries.

Many of my colleagues are shaking their heads in disbelief at the complete waste of time and resources that has resulted from this turn in state politics."

In the building I am privileged to work in, we have worked endlessly as a staff on implementation of the common standards. We have deconstructed each of the standards to create common formative assessments. We have had book studies and writing workshops in an effort to gain a better grasp of the writing standards. While we do not stand to lose everything with this latest legislative development, my wish is that educators will think about what is best for students wherever we end up, instead of what is easiest for themselves.

The thought of moving backward to PASS (or worse) fills me and thousands of other Oklahoma teachers and administrators with mind-numbing angst. The state has invested countless hours and a great deal of professional-development money so that educators, curriculum specialists, and districts would be in a strong position to put the standards in place. To this end, my own district implemented new standards-aligned academic vocabulary, which mandates a grade-level list of words for K-5 students. We purchased many standards-aligned professional materials for teachers to help them in the implementation of instructional units. While those materials and new word lists can be tweaked to reflect whatever might replace the common core, many of my colleagues are shaking their heads in disbelief at the complete waste of time and resources that has resulted from this turn in state politics.

Common-core opponents have believed many myths about the standards, from their being a malevolent federal takeover of education, accompanied by a federally mandated curriculum, to their being the creation of a conspiracy by rich noneducators, resulting in dumbed-down ideas that will kill young minds across America.

See Also

Related Story: Former teacher Dave Powell assesses the political landscape of the standards. Read more.

One of the big sticking points in the standards discussion has been the “exemplar text” list. While I completely agree that a couple of the titles on the high school portion are completely inappropriate and too sexually graphic for the classroom, I would trust that all educators would use their common sense and realize that these are merely suggested titles, not mandated book lists.

Yet, once a state representative read a graphic selection from one of the exemplar texts aloud, it was pretty clear that he had closed the deal. He spelled the words too graphic for the floor of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and his point was made: If a text is too graphic to read aloud on the floor of the House, how then could it be appropriate for teens to read in public school classrooms across the state?

I work hard not to censor books for students. And although I agree with the lawmaker’s premise, I’m confident I could make the appropriate choice for my classroom and my students.

So where does this leave us classroom teachers now? A bit rudderless, I’d say.

When it comes to education in Oklahoma, as much as the methods may change, one fact remains: We are a state that is troubled by our schools. Are we, as educators, going to do what is best for our students and step forward, or will we succumb to the political rants of our legislators and allow them to decide what we teach in the classroom? I have high hopes that when our state pens the new standards, assuming that there isn’t a court-mandated return to the common core, they will reflect the real-world experience of preparing students for the rigors of the 21st century, as well as research-based best practice. What more could educators and families wish for their students?

Yes, in the fall, as a curriculum specialist, I will help the teachers in my building negotiate the rough and choppy waters of the return to PASS or whatever standards we will be asked to teach. We will continue to teach them in a rigorous and child-friendly manner, holding tightly to our belief that all children can learn to read, as well as write. The writing instruction and beliefs that we teachers have implemented over the past few years will not simply vanish into the dark night. We will continue to push on in hopes of a brighter day in Oklahoma.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the July 10, 2014 edition of Education Week as Rudderless in Oklahoma

Events

Classroom Technology Webinar Making Big Technology Decisions: Advice for District Leaders, Principals, and Teachers
Educators at all levels make decisions that can have a huge impact on students. That’s especially true when it comes to the use of technology, which was activated like never before to help students learn
Professional Development Webinar Expand Digital Learning by Expanding Teacher Training
This discussion will examine how things have changed and offer guidance on smart, cost-effective ways to expand digital learning efforts and train teachers to maximize the use of new technologies for learning.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
The Social-Emotional Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic on American Schoolchildren
Hear new findings from an analysis of our 300 million student survey responses along with district leaders on new trends in student SEL.
Content provided by Panorama

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Standards Opinion How the Failure of the Common Core Looked From the Ground
Steve Peha shares insights from his on-site professional-development work about why the common core failed, in a guest letter to Rick Hess.
4 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Standards Opinion Common Core Is a Meal Kit, Not a Nothingburger
Caroline Damon argues Rick Hess and Tom Loveless sold the common core short, claiming the issue was a matter of high-quality implementation.
5 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Standards How New Common Core Research Connects to Biden's Plans for Children and Families
A study of national test scores indicate the early phase of the Common Core State Standards did not help disadvantaged students.
5 min read
results 925693186 02
iStock/Getty
Standards Opinion After All That Commotion, Was the Common Core a Big Nothingburger?
The Common Core State Standards may not have had an impact on student outcomes, but they did make school improvement tougher and more ideological.
3 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty